Bishops remove discussion of politics and abortion from conference agenda

Saturday, November 8, AD 2008

Religion News Service reports that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ plans to discuss abortion and politics next week in Baltimore have been scuttled”:

In a September, after high-profile Catholic politicians challenged church teaching on abortion, the bishops announced that they “plan to discuss the practical and pastoral implications of these serious matters at the U.S. bishops’ Nov. 10-13, 2008 general meeting in Baltimore.” …[Sister Mary Anne] Walsh said the bishops’ discussion has been removed from the agenda as of late Friday. The agenda will not be finalized until Saturday afternoon, Walsh added.

“I think this is something that has evolved since September,” Walsh said. “Many bishops have already addressed the issue (of pro-abortion rights politicians) through pastoral letters, so there’s not the same need they saw in September.”

The article mentions the likely possibility that the topic will be raised in close-door sessions, but Catholic News Service’ Diogenes (Off The Record) is skeptical:

So what has “evolved” to allow the bishops to skip another difficult discussion? Let’s see:

  • Have prominent Catholic politicians ceased to be advocates of legal abortion? Not at all. This year’s two most conspicuous offenders, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, will soon stand 2nd and 3rd in line for the nation’s highest office. They continue to advance not only the ‘culture of death’ political agenda, but also a skewed quasi-Catholic theology to justify it.
  • Have the bishops reached agreement on how to handle the problem? Nope. Right through Election Day individual bishops were issuing their contrasting statements, drawing out different aspects of their malleable common statement, Faithful Citizenship. The most forthright bishops were acknowledging that an air-clearing discussion was overdue.
  • Have the media moved away from the issue, now that the campaign is over, so that the bishops can retreat into undisturbed silence, away from the glare of publicity? Bingo.
  • On the other hand, Amy Welborn advises us to “Chill, and Pray”:

    There are two days of public meetings and two days of private, executive sessions. The issue has obviously exploded beyond the relatively narrow agenda item originally planned for public discussion. I have no problem (as if it matters) with bishops taking this to private discussions in which they can speak freely to each other without the rest of us watching. As enjoyable as that might be for the rest of us.

    As we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, the church of the Bishop of Rome, it seems a good idea to pray for our bishops. It’s particularly apropos on this day because St. John Lateran represents a great deal – and part of symbolism it bears after a millenium and a half regards the complicated and perpetually vexing relationship between Catholicism and civic life, the original church being built by Constantine and the palace, as the residence of the popes for almost a millenium being a center of both politics and religion in Rome – for good and for ill, for the benefit of the Body of Christ and sometimes to its great detriment.Have you prayed for your bishop lately?

    * * *In other news, noting that Catholics voted 52 percent to 45 percent for Senator Barack Obama, Peter Steinfels recommended to the Bishops a change of strategy (Catholics and Choice (in the Voting Booth New York Times 11/07/08):

    Anyone constructing a list of the big losers on Tuesday would probably include the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops. Will that fact be candidly addressed when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meets next week in Baltimore?” …

    If the bishops sweat a little over these figures next week, the reason won’t be worry about their political prowess but about their pastoral and moral effectiveness. By appearing to tie their moral stance on abortion so closely to a particular political choice, have they in fact undermined their moral persuasiveness on that issue as well as their pastoral effectiveness generally?

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